This profile is an interview with Sheri Gilbert, a renaissance woman of many accomplishments. Sheri is currently the Director of Business Development and Retention for the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT), which serves tens of thousands with high quality healthcare and other employee benefits and has annual revenues in excess of $200 million.
From humble beginnings and many struggles, she has succeeded as a published author, a jewelry designer, a business owner, a wellness program designer and as a healthcare executive. Learn more about this extraordinary woman in this interview by Michael Bradley.
Sheri Gilbert – Executive, Published Author, Designer
MB: They say great plants often grow in unexpected places. How did growing up in Indio, California affect you?
SG: Growing up in Indio was great as we were only two hours from the ocean or an hour from mountains and we had a beautiful desert at home. I don’t think I’d be happy living somewhere without those options! Of course, the ocean is a little further for me now, but still doable. Many of the people I went to school with still live and raise their families in the valley. It’s a stunning desert that has that small town feel but is rich in culture.
MB: What family and friend experiences growing up helped form you into the person you are now?
SG: I am blessed to have a strong, close knit family and fabulous friends. Most all of my relationships have and will always stand the test of time. My parents allowed me to be myself and encouraged my creative side growing up which I am grateful for. I learned early in life to appreciate unique and different personalities. Part of that I’m certain, is because I felt different myself! The unique thinkers and doers create opportunities for everyone to view things from an alternate perspective.
MB: You’ve led a renaissance life. As a fellow explorer, I can appreciate that you have worked as a quality assurance manager, you are a published author, you co-owned and operated a construction company, and you created Lynn Paris Originals and showed both business and artistic acumen in original artisan jewelry. Now you have flourished in healthcare and insurance, in roles as diverse as creator of award-winning wellness programs, account management, and now as Director of Marketing and Business Retention. What drives you to seek so many unique outlets for your work life?
SG: I can sum that up in one condition –ADD. Just kidding, sort of. I have always felt driven to learn, do, experience and explore. It’s not boredom that drives me. I can honestly say I’m NEVER bored. How can you be when there are so many fascinating things to do, read or think about? Do you have a natural need to learn new things, or is something you acquired at some point? I have a bit of both. The drive is natural, but I am also someone who wants to see results – I’m rarely happy just to “do” without something to show for it.
MB: We’ve all had trials in our lives. How have yours defined you and who you are?
SG: I wouldn’t say my trials define me, but they have shaped my choices. I now realize if I’m struggling with anything, it’s a sure sign there’s a lesson to be learned that I’m either ignoring or unaware of. That’s my signpost to step back, be the observer for a moment, and reevaluate the situation. Of course, it took me some time to recognize the importance of that! Now it’s just a matter of remembering it!
MB: You are well-respected in the community and have a great number of close friends. How do you juggle the responsibilities of being an active executive with maintaining a friendly outlook and keeping close friends?
SG: I’m a firm believer that overall what really matters in life are relationships. Careers come and go. Finances can change in an instant and titles are important only on paper. With that in mind, I operate with the understanding if I succeed at my relationships, all else will fall into place.
MB: You have family spread out with your Mom in another state and your son grown with his life moving along quickly. Is it hard doing everything sometimes? The amount of energy you show with work, friends, family and keeping such an active life would be too much for most people.
SG: We all get tired at times, but going back to what I mentioned about relationships, my energy tends to be there as long as I’m focusing on what’s really important. Like everyone else, I need to step back and take some time to myself on occasion. Planning short, fun, energizing trips with friends or family is a great way to recharge!
MB: You have a natural love for Akitas. What draws you to that breed of dog, and tell me about your current furry friend(s)?
SG: I’ve always loved big dogs, much to my parent’s dismay. I’d bring home every ginormous stray none that I was allowed to keep! I was introduced to Akitas by friends in the 80’s and fell in love. They have a regal, composed character that translates with just a look. For me, it’s that loyal, powerful presence and free thinking ability that hooked me. They are also sweet and goofy. My current furry companion, Simba, was a rescue I adopted after the original owner surrendered him to move out of state. He was my first Akita I didn’t get as a puppy. I had no idea how he’d been raised so it was a risk as they are powerful animals, and if not handled and raised properly can be troublesome. It took us 24 hours to establish our roles and we’ve been inseparable ever since.
MB: One thing consistent about you is your drive to help others. Your book was very helpful for children, you have worked towards children’s charities, and currently at the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) you help people save money on healthcare, dental and other benefits while leading healthier lives. Is this aspect what leads you to certain career paths?
SG: I would say that I definitely need to be doing something I consider to be a needed service. Being able to directly affect school districts or municipalities budgets in terms of providing a savings that allows them to say, add more teachers, supplies, or special programs, is a great feeling. And at same time we are helping to shape healthy benefits programs and employee wellness which is gratifying as well.
MB: What are some things you are most proud of in your life, whether personal or professional accomplishments?
SG: Like most parents, I am most proud of my fabulous son. He is a unique, driven, brilliant, compassionate young man who moved out at eighteen to work in Copenhagen Denmark and never looked back. He has a true entrepreneurial spirit and is currently a partner in a software development company as well as other ventures. I feel as though my greatest professional accomplishment is yet to come which keeps me motivated!
MB: What advice do you have for other professional men and women in an increasingly demanding culture?
SG: Typically people say do what you love, which isn’t bad advice, but not easy since you may not know what that is until you do it. My advice would be the reverse: love what you do! Whatever choice brings you to a certain path or career, go in intending to love it. To rock it. To build relationships that will serve you for a lifetime. That’s success, regardless of where your career ends up. If you realize you don’t love it, it’s simply a matter of making a different choice. Being stuck is a perception. You always have a choice. Always!
MB: What advice do you have for those aspiring to be successful that are just getting started out?
SG: I could say make a list, set your goals, work towards them tirelessly…like above, it’s not a bad place to start. But I would say instead of aspiring for success, aspire to build relationships, learn and grow, grow, grow!
MB: What else would you like to say?
SG: It’s been a pleasure doing this interview for Arizonaprofiles! I’m exceptionally grateful for the opportunities I’ve been blessed with and hope to be able pass some of that on to others whenever and however I can.